Monday, July 29, 2019

Q & A with Annamalai Swami

Excerpted from Annamalai Swami: Final Talks

Annamalai Swami: "Bhagavan [Ramana Maharshi] watched me very closely in the years that I served him in the ashram. One time I went to the Mother’s temple where many people were talking about worldly matters.

"Bhagavan called me back, saying, ‘Why should you go to that crowd? Don’t go to crowded places. If you move with the crowd, their vasanas will infect you.’

"Bhagavan always encouraged me to live a solitary life and not mix with other people. That was the path he picked for me. Other people got different advice that was equally good for them. But while he actively discouraged me from socializing, he also discouraged me from sitting quietly and meditating during the years that I was working in the ashram. In this period of my life, if Bhagavan saw me sitting with my eyes closed he would call out to me and give me some work to do.

"On one of these occasions he told me, ‘Don’t sit and meditate. It will be enough if you don’t forget that you are the Self. Keep this in your mind all the time while you are working. This sadhana will be enough for you. The real sadhana is not to forget the Self. It is not sitting quietly with one’s eyes closed. You are always the Self. Just don’t forget it.’

"Bhagavan’s way does not create a war between the mind and the body. He does not make people sit down and fight the mind with closed eyes. Usually, when you sit in meditation, you are struggling to achieve something, fighting to gain control over the mind. Bhagavan did not advise us to engage in this kind of fight. He told us that there is no need to engage in a war against the mind, because mind does not have any real, fundamental existence. This mind, he said, is nothing but a shadow. He advised me to be continuously aware of the Self while I did the ordinary things of everyday life, and in my case, this was enough.

"If you understand the Self and be that Self, everything will appear to you as your own Self. No problems will ever come to you while you have this vision. Because you are all and all is the Self, choices about liking or disliking will not arise. If you put on green-tinted glasses, everything you see will appear to be green. If you adopt the vision of the Self, everything that is seen will be Self and Self alone.

"So these were Bhagavan’s teachings for me: ‘If you want to understand the Self, no formal sadhana is required. You are always the Self. Be aware of the Self while you are working. Convince yourself that you are the Self, and not the body or the mind, and always avoid the thought, "I am not the Self”.

"'Avoid thoughts that limit you, thoughts that make you believe that you are not the Self.'

"I once asked Bhagavan: ‘You are at the top of the hill. You have reached the summit of spiritual life, whereas I am still at the bottom of the hill. Please help me to reach the summit.’

"Bhagavan answered, ‘It will be enough if you give up the thought, "I am at the bottom of the hill”. If you can do this, there will be no difference between us. It is just your thoughts that are convincing you that I am at the top and you are at the bottom. If you can give up this difference, you will be fine.’

"'Don‘t adopt attitudes such as these that automatically assume that you are limited or inferior in any way.'

"On another occasion I asked Bhagavan: ‘Nowadays, many people are crossing big oceans by plane in very short periods of time. I would like Bhagavan to find us a good device, a jnana airplane that can speedily transport us all to moksha.’

"This time Bhagavan replied, ‘We are both travelling in a jnana airplane, but you don’t understand this.’

"In his answers to me Bhagavan would never let me fall into the false belief that I was separate or different from him, or that I was a person with a mind and a body who needed to do something to reach some exalted spiritual state. Whenever I asked him questions that were based on assumptions such as these, he would show me the error that was implicit in the question and gently point me back to the truth, the Self. He would never allow me to entertain wrong ideas."

Question: "What other questions did Swamiji ask during his early days at Ramanasramam?"

Annamalai Swami: "When I first came to Bhagavan I used to ask questions about liberation. What is bondage? What is freedom? And so on.

"Muruganar, who was sitting next to me on one of these occasions, laughed and said, ‘This boy doesn’t even know what liberation is and what bondage is’.

"I think he was amused by the innocence of my enquiries. After I began serving Bhagavan, I listened very attentively to all the philosophical explanations that he gave. I also talked to Chadwick and other devotees about various aspects of Vedanta. I gradually absorbed the teachings until a point came where I could say that I had a good working knowledge of Bhagavan’s teachings and the various other systems that were being discussed in his presence.

"In one of his later songs Muruganar wrote about Bhagavan, ‘You make wise people of those who come to you in an ignorant state. This is the grace of Ramana.’

"I always felt that this was a reference to me.

"It wasn’t easy in the beginning. When I first came to the ashram, I was so forgetful I rarely remembered anything that Bhagavan said. Because I was so forgetful, I used to keep a paper and pencil and write down whatever Bhagavan was saying. I felt that my forgetfulness was a hindrance to absorbing Bhagavan’s teachings, so one day I approached him and said, ‘Bhagavan, my memory is very bad. Could you please bless me with a good one.’ Bhagavan looked into my eyes for a few minutes without saying anything. From that day on my memory became very clear and sharp, so much so, I gave up carrying my pencil and paper."


Monday, July 22, 2019

Lal Ded

I was passionate,
filled with longing,
I searched
far and wide.

But the day
that the Truthful One
found me,
I was at home.

-Lal Ded

More here

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Sunrise Practice at the Lakefront Sat 8/17

Saturday, August 17, 5:30-7am

27 Sun Salutations + Sunrise Meditation + Gayatri Mantra + Vegan Treat
Lake Michigan at Lawrence Avenue (4800N)
$20 or pay-what-you-can

We'll meet before 5 a.m. at the lakefront near a grove of trees just north (left) of Lawrence Avenue – where there is free parking and easy access via bicycle and public transport. We'll do sun salutations on grass (not sand) and chant the Gayatri Mantra as the sun rises; then we'll finish our asana practice. All levels; rest as needed. Please bring your own mat and plan to arrive 10 minutes early so you can get settled before we begin at 5am sharp. Please note that there is no bathroom facility at this site. Details and registration here.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Time for Tapas: Make a Commitment for Guru Purnima (Tuesday, 7/16)

excerpted from Kali's book.

“People become depressed when they neglect their spiritual practice.”
–Sri Dharma Mittra

What are you putting off that would deepen your yoga practice?

Is it to clean up your diet? To devote 20 minutes a day to meditation? To stop bed-texting and devote time to reflecting upon the day’s events? To work on a certain pose on a regular basis?

Rather than putting it off indefinitely, consider committing to a new level of practice for a four-month period, starting on Guru Purnima, which this year falls on Tuesday, July 16.

Guru Purnima is a special full moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad in which yogis commit to deepening their practice in order to honor their spiritual preceptor and all spiritual preceptors dating back to the sage Vyasa, who edited the Vedas, Puranas, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Mahabharata.

The guru is considered to be a living example of yoga, a saintly person who shares the practices that can bring the dedicated disciple face-to-face with God. On Guru Purnima, devotees may get up early and spend the day fasting, praying, and singing their guru’s praises. Of course, the best way to honor the guru is to follow his or her teachings and achieve the goal of yoga–self-realization. Indeed, nothing pleases the guru more than seeing the disciple stand on his or her own two feet.

Whether you have a guru or not, Guru Purnima gives yogis a wonderful opportunity to recommit to their spiritual practice, knowing that others around the world are doing the same thing. This collective consciousness is a powerful aid.

On this day, yogis make a commitment called a sankalpa, or a sacred vow. This vow is traditionally kept for a chaturmas, or a four-month period.

A sankalpa made on Guru Purnima is not like a typical New Year’s resolution, where one makes a vague, lofty plan that is followed for a few days and is then jettisoned as old habits reappear. Instead, it is a specific goal with a detailed plan on how to attain it. It is written down, signed, and then given to a spiritual preceptor or teacher.

This practice is part of the yogic observance of tapas, or purifying austerities. Tapas falls into three categories: austerity, worship, and charity. It can include practices to be taken up or habits to be given up.

“That which purifies the impure mind is tapas,” said Swami Sivananda. “That which regenerates the lower animal nature and generates divine nature is tapas. That which cleanses the mind and destroys lust, anger, greed etc., is tapas. That which destroys tamas (dullness) and rajas (impurity) and increases satva (purity) is tapas.”

What you choose to do for Guru Purnima should be something that is reasonable given your particular circumstances. It should also be somewhat challenging. Usually, we have an idea floating around the back of our minds. If that is the case, write it down and visualize how it could be put into action. Remember, it should be appropriate for your particular stage of spiritual practice, and that yoga is, ultimately, about authentically wanting to clean up your act

Once you figure out what your commitment will be, write it down, sign it, and put it into practice–not just for the guru or teacher, but also for your own spiritual unfoldment.

Because ultimately, the real guru is right there, seated in your own heart as your inmost Self.

* * *

Choosing–and Keeping–Your Sankalpa

It is best to write down the vow that you wish to keep for Guru Purnima. The more specific you are, the easier it will be to follow through. Include the steps you will take to accomplish it. Sign it and give it to someone you believe in, or burn it. Then, keep quiet about it and do the work.

If you do not have any ideas, here are a few places to start:

-Give up a bad habit that is not serving you, such as bed-texting, having a glass of wine before bed, eating junk food, gossiping, or spending time with people who bring out the worst in you.

-Spend five minutes a day reading the Yoga Sutras or other scripture.

-Keep a daily spiritual diary, and write down your practices and how well you kept (or didn’t keep) yama, yoga’s ethical foundation. For more ideas, read Swami Radha’s 1996 book, Time To Be Holy.

-Repeat a certain number of rounds of mantra each day, using a mala (a 108-bead rosary used for meditation). “A rosary is a whip to goad the mind towards God,” said Swami Sivananda in his book Japa Yoga (available for free, at japayoga.htm ).

-Develop a home practice. Resolve to do 20 minutes of asana, 12 rounds of pranayama, asana, and/or 20 minutes meditation each day. Or promise yourself that you’ll go to class a certain number of times each week.

-Give up eating meat. If this seems too drastic, consider going vegetarian once a week (for more info, visit or

-If you are not yet ready to deepen your yoga practice, perhaps there is something in your life that needs to be resolved first. Consider diving into that project you’ve been avoiding, such as putting your finances or house in order, or clearing out a practice space in a bedroom or corner of the living room.

-Consider volunteering once a week or month through selfless service or Karma yoga, which should be performed without attachment to results. For example, resist the urge to brag about it or put it on your résumé. For ideas, visit and read Ram Dass’s 1985 book, How Can I Help?

-Take a weekly Internet and smartphone fast, or practice silence once a week. Or vow to eat a meal in silence–no TV, no talking, no texting or reading–once a day or once a week.

-Give away one object you no longer use each day or week. Give the items to charity, or post them on
If you have a tendency to run behind schedule (i.e., you are always late), vow to arrive five minutes early to each of your appointments.

-Put the Yoga Sutras into practice. Read Yogi Cameron Alborzian’s book The One Plan: A Week-by-Week Guide to Restoring Your Natural Health and Happiness. And do the exercises.

Learn more here.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Life of a Yogi Class of 2008

The graduating class of Sri Dharma Mittra's 2008 500-hour teacher training has been busy (that's us, above, in the old shala above the bagel shop at 23rd and 3rd).

Lily Cushman (above) is author of A Little Bit of Mantras.

Jeremy Frindel made the films One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Das and The Doctor from India, about Vasant Lad.

Parvati Om is author of The Love Within and runs Love Yoga Shala in Patchogue, Long Island.

Saraswati Om and Durga Om continue to teach at their respective shalas in upstate New York.

Adam Frei is director of Sri Dharma's teacher training program and midwifed his books Yoga Wisdom and the Life of a Yogi Teacher's Manual.

Mark Kan is author of The Complete Yoga Tutor and teaches in London. We'll be using his book in our 200-hour teacher training, which starts October 5.

And last year I released Beyond the Mat: Don't Just Do Yoga - Live It.... and continue to teach full-time in Chicago and beyond. (My book will also be used in the training).

See more LOAY teacher training photos here.

Jai Guru!